Taiwan’s Disneyland without roller coasters: Everything about the Taiwan Lantern Festival

Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Do you know that a major festival in held in Taiwan on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year? Yes, the annual Taiwan Lantern Festival (台灣燈會)! The festival is the largest and most attended celebration event in Taiwan. It is usually held in January or February, starts on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, and lasts for about 2 weeks. Selected as one of the top “World Night View Heritage” events, the Taiwan Lantern Festival is a must-see and “must-participate” event in Taiwan. It is described as “Taiwan’s Disneyland without roller coasters” as the festival is filled with spectacular lanterns, magical light installations, and fun activities.

After 23 years, the Taiwan Lantern Festival returns to Taipei with over 300 light displays that are exhibited around the city from 5 to 19 February 2023. Thanks to Taiwan Tourism Bureau Singapore, I had an incredible experience at the 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Taipei during the first week of the festival. The festival has attracted crowds of locals who travel to the capital city from other parts of Taiwan and also international visitors. Over 1 million people visited the festival on just one day of the 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Taipei!

I enjoyed the festival so much that I am so excited to share my experiences with fellow travelers. Here’s a guide to everything you need to know about the Taiwan Lantern Festival. Whether you’re visiting the festival in Taipei this year or planning to visit the festival in the future, I hope this guide will be helpful!

History of Taiwan Lantern Festival

Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau (2022 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Kaohsiung City)

Lunar New Year is celebrated over 15 days and the last day of the celebrations is known as the Lantern Festival or Chap Goh Meh (which means 15th night) or yuan xiao jie (元宵節). There are many traditions surrounding the Lunar New Year and the Chinese believe that the first full moon of the Lunar New Year brings blessings, good luck, and prosperity. Some popular traditions celebrating the 15th day of the new year include enjoy festive meals with family, eat yuan xiao or rice balls, and carry lanterns.

The current version of the Taiwan Lantern Festival has its start in 1990 when the Taiwan Tourism Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation and Communications organized a large-scale, multi-day lantern festival that was held in Taipei. The goals of the festival were to promote traditional arts and culture locally and showcase Taiwan’s arts and culture to the world. The festival began to travel around Taiwan since 2001 so that different parts of Taiwan have the chance to host the festival and visitors could enjoy diverse experiences and sights. The annual festival features lanterns based on the zodiac animal for that year. In 2022, the festival was in Kaohsiung City and pre-Covid, the festival was held all over Taiwan like in Taichung City (2020), Pingtung County (2019), and Chiayi County (2018). The 2024 Taiwan Lantern Festival will be held at Tainan!

Guide to Taiwan Lantern Festival 2023

Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

There is great excitement about Taiwan Lantern Festival 2023 as it is the first time the festival is held in Taipei since 2001 and the first big scale festival in Taiwan since the easing of Covid restrictions.

The theme for the Taiwan Lantern Festival in Taipei (台灣燈會在台北) is “Light up the future” and the tagline is “The light of hope illuminates cities, and the path of light leads Taipei to the future.” The festival is curated as an immersive urban lantern festival that provides a “Disneyland without roller coasters” experience. The festival spotlights the innovative technology and the creative integration with lanterns and traditions.

The sprawling festival covers a combined space of 168 hectares with four main exhibition areas. Please see more about the zones and the descriptions of the zones extracted from the festival website below.

1. Central Display Zone (中央展區)

This display zone includes the main lantern, three secondary lanterns, and six themed zones. The Central Display Zone spans the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (north zone) and Taipei City Hall Square (south zone). The star of the Central Display Zone is the gigantic 22-meter “rabbit robot” standing in the heart of the memorial park. Named “Brilliant Light of the Jade Hare (玉兔壯彩),” this futuristic rabbit is designed by the Taiwanese artist, Akibo Lee. The rabbit’s animated expressions are so adorable and they are created based on the facial expressions of Olympic gold medalist weightlifter Kuo Hsing-chun (郭婞淳) through sophisticated performance capture technology. Watch the video below to learn more about this innovative lantern!

2. Lights of the Future Display Zone (未來展區)

Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau. Taipei NEXT! (台北 NEXT!) by Dintas Digital Company Limited (鼎拉斯數位股份有限公司).

This display zone is located in Xinyi District, which is the most cosmopolitan and trendy shopping district in Taiwan and the place where major international brands and corporations congregate. The works in this display zone allow visitors to experience the trends, culture, digital technologies, and sustainability of Taipei.

3. Fount of Light Display Zone (源展區)

Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau. 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Taipei – Taipei Together (臺北兔給樂) and B’in Live(必應創造) x Bito

This display zone is located in the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park. With a history of more than a century, Taipei embraces diverse cultures from all over the world. Through the blending of diverse languages, melodies, totems, and symbols, Taipei has become a hotbed of creativity and a city rich with stories. Located within this historically significant, diverse, and highly creative city, the Fount of Light is a fountain of innovation into which you can dive to experience the diversity and inclusiveness of Taipei through the works on display.

4. Beacons of Light Display Zone (光展區)

Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau. 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Taipei – Future Shuttle (未來 · 穿梭 · 兔子洞) by Chen Pu (陳普)

The Beacons of Light Display Zone is located in the East District commercial area. The Beacons of Light Display Zone showcases Taipei’s position at the forefront of modern innovation. The works displayed in the display zone reflect the pride of Taiwan and the brilliance of Taipei.

12 City Districts in Taipei

In addition, the festival has display zones in 12 city districts like in Songshan, Daan, Wanhua, and even all the way at Neihu. The festival also has a Lantern Competition Zone that showcases the top lanterns created by local students and teachers.

Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau. 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Taipei – Zhongshan Display

Other than lantern displays, the festival is packed with performances that run throughout the festival. Watch the opening ceremony here and see the full schedule of performances on the festival website.

Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau. 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Taipei – Festival Opening Ceremony Performance

If you are lucky to be visiting the festival this year, check out my guide to the 10 must-see lanterns at Taiwan Lantern Festival 2023 in Taipei.

Before heading to the festival, download the festival’s brochure and map and plan your festival route.

Credit: Taiwan Tourism Bureau. 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Taipei

Here’s a nice video that shows the highlights of the 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Taipei.

Tips for visiting the Taiwan Lantern Festival

When to visit the Taiwan Lantern Festival

The festival is crowded throughout the two weeks. I visited on weekend and weekday evenings and the display zones were packed with people. But not to worry, there’s still space to move around and take photos despite the crowds. Try to visit on weekdays and start your tour around 5 or 6pm so you can see the lanterns illuminating the cityscape as the skies turn dark. Check out the Taiwan Lantern Festival website before heading down to the festival sites to see the crowd size at each display zone (the website shows a helpful map with colors that indicate: normal crowd, slightly crowded, or crowded).

What to see at the Taiwan Lantern Festival

Featuring over 300 lantern exhibits, the scope of the festival is massive. You probably need a number of days to see all the lanterns and artworks. If you have limited time, focus on the top displays like the main and secondary lanterns. Check out my guide to the 10 must-see lanterns at Taiwan Lantern Festival 2023 in Taipei.

Start your festival route from the Central Display Zone and explore the zones in the area. For the 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Taipei, here’s a suggested route: Central Display Zone -> Lights of the Future Display Zone -> Fount of Light Display Zone -> Beacons of Light Display Zone

How to visit the Taiwan Lantern Festival?

All lantern festival venues are accessible by the Taipei Metro (key stations: Zhongxiao Fuxing Station, Zhongxiao Dunhua Station, Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall Station, Taipei City Hall Station, and Taipei 101 Station), which links the East District and the Xinyi District, integrating local business as well as Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, Taipei 101, and other key urban sites.

Public transportation is the best way to get around the festival zones. Taipei Metro is your best friend as you can avoid traffic jams and hop on and off the trains to visit many festival sites. Remember to buy an EasyCard and top up its value as this versatile card can be used for metro and bus rides and cashless payments in shops. 

Taiwan Lantern Festival Shuttle Bus

Special shuttle buses connect the four main display zones via 2 bus routes. The shuttle buses come regularly (every 5-10 minutes) and each ride costs just NT$5 and you can pay using an EasyCard.

I took the shuttle bus to get from the Lights of the Future Display Zone (Taipei 101 area) to Fount of Light Display Zone (Songshan Cultural and Creative Park) and it was very convenient. The buses can be slow as the roads around the main display zones are quite jammed.

If you like some exercise while visiting the festival, you can rent the YouBikes and ride from one festival zone to another. But be careful when you are riding as the human traffic is as heavy as the vehicle flow.

There are many information desks located in the different festival zones so head to the nearest information point (details about information services here) if you need any help or direction. The festival provides a range of services like wheelchair and baby stroller rentals, mobile tourism consultation services, breastfeeding room and restrooms.

Special offers for international visitors to Taiwan

2023 is the time to visit Taiwan as international tourists can enjoy many travel perks! The Taiwan government plans to spend NT$6 billion (US$200.69 million) on incentives to attract more than 6 million international tourists to Taiwan in 2023. Special offers include free Taiwan High Speed Rail tickets with plane ticket purchases and “buy 1 get 1 free” free one-way Taiwan High Speed Rail pass.

If you visit during Taiwan during the 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival, you are entitled to these special offers.

For international group visitors

Special Offer: All visitors who purchase a full-package product from an overseas travel agent during the 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival (not including visitors who buy just flight and hotel accommodation) will be given:

  • a small 2023 handheld lantern
  • a small limited-edition gift (Taiwan Fresh-cut Fruit Box Voucher)
  • a viewing-stand ticket (not usable for the opening and closing ceremonies, and due to the large number of people who will be in the seating area in front of the Main Lantern display, organizers reserve the right to limit entry temporarily for safety reasons.)
  • Each person may receive only one of each gift, available while supplies last.

Collection Method: The local Taiwanese travel agent entrusted by a foreign travel agent should apply to the Taiwan Tourism Bureau, MOTC, by email (twtourismbureau@gmail.com) for the gifts. After approval, they will be notified to collect the gifts.

Redemption of Taiwan Fresh-cut Fruit Box Voucher: The local tour guide should contact FamilyMart in Taiwan to assist group tour passengers in redeeming the voucher.

For international independent (free and easy) visitors

Special Offer: Independent international travelers who attend the 2023 Taiwan Lantern Festival in Taipei City will be given:

  • a small 2023 handheld lantern
  • a small limited-edition gift (Taiwan Fresh-cut Fruit Box Voucher)
  • a viewing-stand ticket (not usable for the opening and closing ceremonies, and due to the large number of people who will be in the seating area in front of the Main Lantern display, organizers reserve the right to limit entry temporarily for safety reasons.)
  • Each person may receive only one of each gift, available while supplies last.

Collection Method: To collect the gifts, please go to the Special Offer Redemption Area located in the western parking lot of the National Dr. Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (next to Guangfu South Rd.) between 6 – 9 pm, from Feb. 5 – 19, 2023. Show your passport or Taiwan entry document. (ROC passports are not accepted.)

Redemption of Taiwan Fresh-cut Fruit Box Voucher: Take the voucher to any FamilyMart, and Choose one fresh-cut fruit box with an “OhBear” design on the package. Take the voucher and fruit box to the counter to check out, and the clerk will swipe the barcode of the voucher. Find out more about how to redeem your free fruits here.

I was so happy to enjoy the free fruit box! Yummy, sugary Taiwan soupsop!

Guides to more Spring Festivals in Taiwan

Other than the main Taiwan Lantern Festival, there are many lantern festivals spread all over the island. Cities and towns host smaller scale lantern festivals. If you have a longer holiday in Taiwan, combine your visit to the Taiwan Lantern Festival with trips to smaller towns and check out their local festivals.

Pingxi Lantern Festival 平溪天燈節

Credit: Tourism and Travel Department, New Taipei City Government

Held on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, Pingxi Lantern Festival 平溪天燈節 is famous as thousands of sky lanterns are released into the sky during the festival. Pingxi and the neighbouring town Shifen are the only places in Taiwan where sky lanterns are allowed. During the festival, Pingxi is packed with people who wish to get blessings for the new year. People write wishes on the paper lanterns and release them into the sky in hopes that their wishes will come true.

Sky lanterns can be released not just during the festival so it’s a popular activity for visitors. Recently, there have been eco-friendly lanterns that you can purchase and release to the air. To reduce impact on the environment, you can also release digital lantern.

Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival 鹽水蜂炮

Photo: Taiwan Tourism Bureau

Another spectacular festival takes place on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year and it’s the unique Yanshui Fireworks Festival 鹽水蜂炮 or Yanshui Beehive Fireworks Festival in Tainan City. I kept seeing reports of the exciting festival in the news when I was in Taipei for the Taiwan Lantern Festival 2023. It was so exhilarating to see videos of rockets and fireworks exploding in the streets. Imagine participating the festival in person (while wearing protective gear of course).

This traditional festival is well known for the colors and intensity of firecrackers, “beehives” (giant cylinders filled with bottle rockets), and fireworks that are launched into the skies and crowds. The locals believe that if you are hit by the rocket, you will get good luck. Nick Kembel calls it Taiwan’s most dangerous festival so check out his guide to the Yanshui Fireworks Festival.

The Bombing Master Handan Festival 炸寒單

Credit: Discover Taitung

Together with the Pingxi Lantern Festival and Yanshui Fireworks Festival, the Bombing of Master Handan 炸寒單 is one of the top three famous lantern festival traditions in Taiwan. Held in Taitung, this thrilling festival is famed for the exciting parade of Master Handan through the streets and firecrackers thrown at him. Master Handan is believed to be one of the Taoist Five Gods of Wealth and the locals believe that they will be blessed with good fortune and well wishes when they throw firecrackers at Master Handan. The more firecrackers you use to hit Master Handan, the more luck and blessing you will get!

Taitung City’s Xuanwu Temple is the home to Master Handan so the parades are centered around the temple. The festival runs for five to six days and you can enjoy other festivities like lantern displays and performances. I love Taitung as it’s so beautiful and underrated. Check out my guide to the top 10 experiences in Taitung and the guide to cycling in Taitung.

Cherry blooms in Taiwan

Credit: Henry & Co. on Unsplash

Visiting Taiwan during the Taiwan Lantern Festival means that you are welcoming spring and you will be treated with blooming flowers like plum flowers and cherry blossoms!

Take a break from the lantern festival and head to Yangmingshan to view gorgeous cherry blossoms and soak in the hot springs in the mountains and also in Beitou. After all the walking all over the festival sites, treat yourself to a relaxing and rejuvenating hot spring bath! Check out this Klook’s guide to the best places around Taiwan to see cherry blossoms. 

If you like to venture further out, the mountainous regions are famous for splendid cherry blossoms like Alishan and Lishan area. Check out my comprehensive guide to Alishan and guide to Lishan and the Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area.

Do you know what there are many other interesting festivals in Taiwan where you can experience interesting cultures and scenic views? Nick Kembel has put together an awesome guide to over 60 festivals in Taiwan. Participate in local festivals for your next trip to Taiwan! 

Travel tip: You can purchase high speed train tickets from Taiwan High Speed Rail website or discounted tickets (20% off) on Klook. Use my special Klook promo code WENDYKLOOK  to enjoy 5% any Klook purchases (no min. spend; capped at USD $10).

Klook.com

For latest updates about travelling to Taiwan, please check Taiwan Tourism Administration’s social media regularly (Facebook and Instagram)!


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